Last week saw a significant easing of social distancing measures in England as the Prime Minister confirmed that pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to open from 4 July, provided that they are “Covid-secure”. Two households of any size will now be able to meet inside, regardless of size, and stay overnight – which is convenient given the propensity for rain in the UK!

The changes are particularly welcome in light of the extreme loneliness that many people have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those shielding and in clinically vulnerable groups have faced particularly severe isolation. At Anthony Collins Solicitors, we have been impressed to see a number of charities and churches find new ways to keep their communities connected. Faith Action recently reported on the actions that its members have taken to tackle loneliness during the pandemic. Somewhere Else, a Liverpool church, runs a virtual knitting project called ‘Click and Connect’ and the Adhar Project, a Leicester BAME-focused mental health charity, has seen a huge increase in the number of people being referred to their service and have held virtual yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes online.

Catch up with all the latest charity updates in this week’s news roundup.

Places of worship to re-open for regular services and weddings

On Saturday 13 June, places of worship were finally allowed to open for private prayer for the first time since lockdown began. The Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday 23 June introduced more changes. From 4 July, places of worship will also be able to hold regular services and weddings with a maximum of 30 people, subject to social distancing.  At the time of going to press it is not clear if the limit of 30 people will also apply to regular services and we await the detailed guidance. The Government has published preliminary guidance that is designed to assist places of worship to prepare to open in line with social distancing guidelines. At the time of writing, this guidance only relates to the opening of places or worship for private prayer; we expect an updated version to be published shortly.

Key points that emerge from the guidance include the need to carry out a comprehensive Covid-19 risk assessment and thoroughly clean before re-opening. Trustees may also wish to consider re-arranging the place of worship to allow for social distancing, making additional hand-washing facilities available and implementing restrictions on capacity. In addition, the guidance emphasises the importance of protecting those who are shielding or clinically vulnerable: trustees may wish to consider setting aside specific times for people in these categories to visit for individual prayer.

For more information, read our Regulatory team’s e-briefing on how places of worship can re-open safely.

Charity Commission opens statutory inquiry

On 22 June, the Charity Commission announced that it has opened a statutory inquiry into Charr Yarr Welfare Foundation Limited, a Yorkshire education charity. The inquiry was opened following serious regulatory concerns, particularly in respect of its finances.

The charity had made grants totalling £27,200 to a partner charity based in Pakistan but was unable to provide any receipts for these payments. The charity’s accounts were also submitted late in two successive years. After the Charity Commission made two compliance visits and issued guidance and an action plan to the charity, the trustees again failed to file the charity’s accounts on time.

The report emphasises the importance of filing accounts on time. Though the Charity Commission has shown some leniency during the pandemic, charities should always seek an extension if they have concerns that they may not be able to file on time. For more information and advice, please speak to your usual ACS contact or another member of the team.

FRC publishes updated guidance for AGMs

Following the publication of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill 2020, the Financial Reporting Council has updated its Q&As in respect of best practice for AGMs. The Bill contains a number of temporary measures to help companies manage the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, though these measures are permissive rather than prescriptive.

The guidance encourages companies to monitor and regularly review their position in relation to physical and virtual meetings and strike a balance between the safety for their members and members’ expectations to be given opportunities to engage with the board. The guidance suggests that in some cases it may be possible to hold a physical meeting with a representative selection of members. It also sets out some advice regarding communication with members, such as providing clarity on proxy voting and explaining the procedure for any virtual or physical meeting before the meeting. 

For more information about charity and company governance, click here to read our Company Secretary Update.

Unprecedented volume of donations expected for charity shops

A survey carried out by WRAP UK estimated that around 67 million items of clothing have been set aside by British households for disposal. Many of these items will be donated to charity shops whose volunteers will then have to sort through them. Shops may then face problems with storing such large amounts of stock and find it difficult to sell it on if customers do not readily return to the high street.

In our 8 June Newsletter, Natalie Barbosa noted how charities are finding more sustainable ways of doing things during the pandemic. Many charity shops are encouraging customers to donate clothing and other textiles through instore collections, which is an often-underused method for recycling clothing. WRAP UK also reported that 50% of those surveyed were now actively committed to reducing their clothing waste – an encouraging statistic for both the charities sector and the environment.

Further information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter, please speak to Phil Watts, email your usual ACS contact or contact us via the ACS website.

Phil Watts is Senior Associate in the charities and social business team and has been advising charities of all shapes and sizes on a wide range of issues for over 25 years. During lockdown, Phil has enjoyed walking more than ever before and has discovered lots of new things about the area in which he lives!  He has also developed a greater appreciation for his garden, which has received a new level of tender loving care this year!